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Nobody Here But Us Capitalists:  Democracy, Big Business, and Progress at the turn of the 20th century

Nobody Here But Us Capitalists:
Democracy, Big Business, and Progress at the turn of the 20th century


In California, high school juniors are to focus their study of U.S. history in the 20th century. In order to better do this, it can be productive to devote some time to the development of the social ills in the last half of the 19th century that were of concern to the Progressives. Studying what plagued society, what solutions the Progressives offered, and which of those solutions were adopted can help students be better prepared to study the New Deal and the Great Society later in the year.

While students usually have no trouble understanding how the lack of sewers, high crime rates, and insufficient housing can be problems, my students have had difficulty understanding the "problem" with monopolies or the accumulations of fabulous wealth. This has meant that the students often did not understand the concerns for democracy that the Progressives felt in the face of the growth of monopolies such as Standard Oil and Carnegie Steel. I developed this lesson in order to have the students begin to understand how we have combined capitalism and democracy in this country, as we still live with the particular configuration created during the Progressive Era. Ultimately I encourage the students to contemplate whether a democratic society can function successfully when there are extremes of rich and poor.

I have done this lesson with both an AP and an honors class. The daily schedule and activities were the same for both. For the AP class, however, I used sources that tended to be three to six pages long, instead of the one-page sources I refer to below for the AP Class. I used Henry George on Progress and Poverty, Andrew Carnegie on Wealth, William Graham Sumner on The Absurd Effort to Make the World Over, Henry Demarest Lloyd on Wealth Against Commonwealth, Samuel Gompers' Letter on Labor in Industrial Society, Lincoln Steffens on The Shame of the Cities, Ida M. Tarbell on the methods of the Standard Oil Company, and Jane Addams on Twenty Years at Hull-House. These can all be found in the source books and at the web sites listed in the Resources section. The students in the AP class had also done more extensive background reading, especially on the debate among historians on whether to call men such as Andrew Carnegie a "robber baron" or an "industrial statesman" and on the origin of and importance of the Populists. Other than these differences, the lesson was conducted same as described.

Before beginning the lesson
Day One
Day Two
Day Three
Day Four
Day Five
Day Six
Internet Resources
Worksheet:" Meet the Press"
MS Word version
pdf version

Urban Dreams
OUSD Curriculum Unit

"Nobody Here But Us Capitalists:
Democracy, Big Business, and Progress at the Turn of the 20th Century"

Subject: U.S. History
Grade Level: 11th

Lesson Plan Author:
Elizabeth Haugen
Organization: OUSD